Johannesburg – League leaders Kaizer Chiefs go into the Soweto derby Saturday slightly more at ease than archrivals Orlando Pirates.
A sell-out crowd of 90,000 will gather at the FNB Stadium to see the two top-seeded teams in the South African Premiership square off.
Chiefs lead Pirates by three points in the league, and won their last encounter against Ajax Cape Town 3-0 on Tuesday. Pirates for their part drew 0-0 against third-last rookies Chippa United on Thursday.
A Chiefs victory in Soweto will extend their lead to six points. If Pirates win, the country's two largest clubs will tie for the lead. The Buccaneers might then regret the Chippa draw when a win would have given them the chance to overtake Chiefs on Saturday.
Yet Pirates' play has improved in the last few weeks, and at number two on the table they are far from out of the title race.
Pirates boss Roger de Sa said his side were up for the challenge.
“For the first time in a while, both teams are evenly matched,” he said at a pre-match press conference.
Both teams have new coaches that will face the heat in their first derby. Former Bafana Bafana coach Scotsman Stuart Baxter started at Chiefs at the beginning of the season, and after a rocky take-off led them to score an impressive 27 goals in 13 league matches.
The derby's importance is not lost on him, though.
“Previous form does not count ahead of a derby match,” he said.
“The game is a massive game, showpiece for the South African football that we can be proud of. This is the face of SA football and both teams need to step it up a bit.”
Roger de Sa was appointed Pirates boss in September and since then the team has only lost twice – both times to League Cup champions Bloemfontein Celtic.
“I foresee an open game; both teams like to have a go at the other,” said De Sa.
“We got to focus on what we can do, cat and mouse situation. If they don't have the ball, there isn't much that they can do.”
The match will also see striker Bernard Parker pitted against Benni McCarthy.
Top league scorer Parker has netted the ball eight times and took over McCarthy's jersey at national side Bafana Bafana (The Boys).
Freshly recovered from a hamstring injury, top Bafana scorer McCarthy will strengthen Pirates' claim to glory. They already have Zambian Collins Mbesuma in their arsenal, whose strikes have been deadly this season.
Organisers have told spectators without tickets to stay home, as none will be sold at the stadium.
Now in its 42nd year, the Soweto Derby started in 1970. That year Pirates star Kaizer Motaung returned from a spell in the North American Soccer League to management infighting. He left, taking some Orlando players with him to found the Kaizer XI, later dubbed Kaizer Chiefs.
Chiefs have won 64 of their clashes and Pirates only 35.
With over half the games still left in the league, the Soweto clash will hardly determine the league champions.
All the same fans from both sides expect nothing less than a victory at Africa's most iconic derby, and the pressure will be tight. – Sapa-AFP